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A Leisurely Summer Picnic

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An Oregon chef’s picnic menu celebrates the bold flavors and easy elegance of the Mediterranean.

Picnics always bring me back to the time when I worked in southern France, where people feast in the open air whenever they have the chance. So for this menu I decided to celebrate everything I love about the Mediterranean: The wise cooks, who instinctively rely on what’s in season at the local market. The straightforward cooking techniques. And, above all, the irresistible flavors—sweet, ripe tomatoes; tangy lemons, capers, and artichokes; and Moroccan spices, which are extremely popular in the South of France.

In keeping with the laid-back spirit of picnicking, sandwiches are the heart of this menu. My olive-oil–poached tuna salad sandwiches and the mini Moroccan-spiced chicken breast sandwiches are hearty, easy to make, and even easier to eat.

Sandwiches that taste great and travel well begin with a base of nice chewy bread, like focaccia or ciabatta. I cut the bread into fairly thick slices and lightly toast them, which prevents the filling from making the bread soggy. I use substantial flavorful spreads or jams instead of thin, drippy sauces. I don’t pile on the fillings because smallish sandwiches are much easier to eat. And I keep the components of the sandwiches separate from one another until just before I leave—or I assemble the sandwiches on the spot at the picnic site.

A trio of cool accompaniments rounds out the meal. My yellow tomato gazpacho is bright and cool, and it travels easily in a thermos. The spicy-sweet couscous salad goes well with both sandwiches. And, as for the watermelon, well, in the dog days of summer, there’s not a better dessert in the world.

All the recipes in this menu can be prepared in advance, assembled quickly, transported easily, and served chilled or at room temperature. The only utensils you’ll need are a spoon and your fingers.

Menu Timeline

Two days ahead:

  • Make the Moroccan dry rub.
  • Make the onion marmalade.

The night before:

  • Make the couscous salad, reserving the scallions, almonds, currants, and parsley.
  • Prep the gazpacho ingredients.

Earlier that day:

  • Purée the gazpacho and refrigerate.
  • Poach the tuna.
  • Make the lemon vinaigrette and marinate the artichokes.
  • Grill the chicken.

An hour before:

  • Make the avocado salsa.

Right before you leave:

  • Assemble the sandwiches.
  • Pack the picnic basket.

At the picnic:

  • Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings.
  • Add the scallions, almonds, currants, and parsley to the couscous.
  • Slice the watermelon.

Shopping List

Meat, Eggs & Poultry:

  • 1 pound fresh tuna fillet
  • 4 medium boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

Fresh Produce:

  • 5 pounds Yellow Taxi tomatoes or other ripe yellow tomatoes or red heirloom tomatoes
  • 2 red heirloom slicing tomatoes
  • 1 English or regular cucumber
  • 1 medium yellow bell pepper
  • 1 small red bell pepper
  • 1 head of lettuce such as romaine, red leaf, or Boston
  • 1-2 cups baby arugula
  • 2 small Haas avocados
  • 1 lime
  • 2-3 lemons
  • 1-2 oranges
  • 2 small red onions
  • 3 medium yellow onions
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 bunch of scallions
  • 2 small hot red chiles
  • 1 small bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 whole watermelon (for dessert)

Other Groceries:

  • 1 bottle white peppercorns
  • 1 14-ounce can water-packed artichoke hearts
  • 1 bottle of nonpareil capers
  • 1-2 loaves sourdough bread (enough for 12 good slices)
  • 12 2 1/2-inch-square pieces of focaccia
  • 1 package couscous
  • 1 package sliced almonds
  • 1 package dried currants
  • 1 bottle sweet paprika, preferably Hungarian
  • 1 pinch of saffron (optional)
  • 1 bottle hot sauce such as Tabasco

Pantry Staples:

  • Kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup sherry wine or white-wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • vegetable oil (as needed)
  • 2 cups vegetable or low-salt chicken broth
  • about 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne

The Menu

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